- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fast & Furious (Universal, $29.98 for DVD, $34.98 for two-disc DVD, $39.98 for two-disc Blu-ray) — In a year of movie surprises — The “Star Trek” reboot was clever and entertaining? “Bruno” was not the comedy sensation of the year? — “Fast & Furious” was one of the biggest. It was the fourth entry in a franchise many critics thought should be retired, so box-office expectations weren’t that high. It made almost $71 million its first weekend, double what industry observers had expected, and nearly recouped its entire $85 million budget.

The secret of its success? Probably that it brought back all the original stars of the first film — titled “The Fast and the Furious,” making the fourth film’s title needlessly confusing — Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. With hot cars and hot ladies for the men (and hot cars and hot men for the ladies), perhaps box-office prognosticators shouldn’t have been shocked that it went on to make nearly $350 million worldwide.

The single-disc DVD includes a commentary and gag reel, while the two-disc version contains those as well as a digital copy of the film and a nice collection of featurettes — including a short film with the characters’ back stories, “Driving School With Vin Diesel,” and a look at the muscled actor’s iconic muscle car, the Dodge Charger. The Blu-ray edition includes all that plus a couple of great interactive features. You can view specs on cars from the film and get personal visual commentary from director Justin Lin and Mr. Walker.

Life on Mars, Series 1 (Acorn, $59.99) — “Life on Mars,” which ran on ABC from October 2008 to April before being canceled, got some critical love but couldn’t find a viewership. Maybe too many Americans read what Stephen King had to say about it. He called the original British series on which it was based “one of the greatest limited-run (16 episodes) television series I’ve ever seen — it shuts the American version down completely.”

You finally can see what all the fuss is about, as Acorn is releasing the first eight episodes of the British original, which ran from 2006 to 2007, in a four-disc set. The series stars John Simm (of another British series, remade as the film “State of Play”) as a modern-day Manchester cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up to find it’s 1973 again. Whether he’s in a coma or crazy or actually has traveled back in time is not clear at the beginning. What is obvious is that forensics and interrogations in the disco age aren’t anything like what he’s used to.

Extras include audio commentaries with cast and crew on each episode, an hourlong documentary on the series, outtakes and featurettes on the period drama’s music and production design.

This Is Spinal Tap (MGM, $34.99 for Blu-ray) — Make sure your home theater system goes to 11: One of the greatest-ever mockumentaries comes to Blu-ray. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are the titular trio who try to hang onto whatever fame they might have as they embark on a rather low-selling concert tour. The side-splittingly hilarious movie was given the top shot on Entertainment Weekly’s list of Top 50 cult films. Extras include cast and crew commentary, deleted scenes and music videos, and a DVD with new material includes the group’s 2007 Live Earth reunion performance at Wembley Stadium. How excited the boys must have been.

A River Runs Through It (Sony, $38.96 for Blu-ray) — Another classic comes to Blu-ray with the release of the 1992 film directed by Robert Redford, based on the autobiographical novella by Norman Maclean. Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer star as the rebellious and not-so-rebellious sons of a Presbyterian minister played by Tom Skerritt. The Blu-ray disc is packaged in a 32-page book that includes photographs and three pages of the Oscar-nominated screenplay. Extras include deleted scenes, a documentary on the restoration of the Blackfoot River with the help of Mr. Redford and his crew, and a how-to lesson on fly-fishing.

Super Why! Jack and the Beanstalk & Other Fairytale Adventures (Paramount, $14.99) — You don’t see many children’s series in which superheroes get their powers from books. Perhaps that’s why “Super Why!” was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding preschool children’s series and received the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval. The PBS Kids show doesn’t just explore classic fairy tales — “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” — it actually aims to teach children to read them. The characters solve everyday preschool challenges using those books and encourage little viewers to read along and help. DVD extras include interactive games, music videos and printable activities and coloring pages.

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